Education is about preparing for the future, and nobody knows that better than educators—and maybe the IT teams who support them and must keep up as related technologies evolve. Colorado Community College System (CCCS) recently positioned itself for a modern, cloud-ready future by coordinating F5 app services and automation with Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform.
CCCS, a consortium of Colorado community colleges, operates 13 colleges in three dozen locations and serves 130,000 students each year. The state’s largest provider of higher education, it grants more than 20,000 degrees and certificates annually. Technology is central to its educational mission, with apps powering everything from online courses, financial aid applications, and dorm operations to financial management.
“The system couldn’t exist without technology,” says Joe Tarnow, Manager of System Administration and DBA Services for CCCS. His seven-member team takes responsibility for the consortium’s IT infrastructure, compute, storage, and certificate needs, as well as providing additional support to the smaller schools and locations.
Despite constrained resources, CCCS must ensure that its IT infrastructure—like its educational approach—is both cost-efficient today and can adapt for the future.
In 2021, CCCS refreshed its two on-premises data centers, deploying a Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) fabric to support containerization of the consortium’s Ellucian Banner ERP system and other apps, many of which have been customized. After trying a different Kubernetes orchestration platform, CCCS selected RedHat OpenShift.
Tarnow appreciated the app services, including load balancing and failover support, provided by the consortium’s existing F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) and F5 BIG-IP DNS. These ran on F5 i5800 hardware, with F5 Virtual Clustered Multiprocessing (vCMP) enabling the provisioning and management of multiple instances and environments. As they deployed Cisco ACI, his team needed help integrating these existing investments into the new infrastructure while ensuring smooth ingress control. They also hoped to take greater advantage of the automation capabilities of their F5 solutions.
That was particularly true given that a pending ERP system upgrade would have dramatically increased hardware requirements and the time required for routine server maintenance. “The way we were set up before was pretty traditional—one server runs an app,” says Tarnow. “We would manually set up our pools and servers.” The prospect of so much manual labor across many more servers was daunting.
Tarnow reached out to One Technology, a local deployment and integration partner with several years of history supporting CCCS, for help plotting the right path forward and accessing more of the automation enabled by their F5 solution.
The One Technology team, which includes Solutions Engineer Stephen Hipszky, recommended relying on the F5 BIG-IP Container Ingress Services (CIS) feature as a front-end ingress controller for the OpenShift clusters. Doing so would better tie the investments together, help OpenShift work more effectively, and enable greater automation.
“It took some juggling—as all things do when they’re brand new,” says Hipszky, one of only two dozen employees at One Technology. “But F5 does really well with Kubernetes, and there are a lot of benefits to having F5 services placed in front.”
Tarnow says, “One Technology got us up to speed on the F5 solution right away. They were great teachers—very responsive. They were as involved as we were in making things work.”
The solution’s automation has made app updates faster.
“That was a huge win for us,” says Tarnow. “The F5 automation—and how little we have to touch it—is very helpful. The upgrade process used to take us so long. Now we have twice the number of apps, and upgrades take the same time or even less. Less downtime is a big benefit. And the more that can be automated, the more we can do for our users and students.”
The solution has also accelerated ERP upgrades. “Now we don’t need to worry about that,” says Tarnow. “The CIS controller from F5 that lives in our OpenShift environment completely automates that whole process for us.”
His team also expects to soon automate certificate renewal.
“As TLS certificate validity becomes shorter, it is very important for us to automate renewals,” he says. “We just wouldn’t be able to keep up with that manually. The integration between F5 products and our certificate authority will help.”
The integrated solution positions CCCS for the future, enhancing automation and app orchestration capabilities as well as providing a foundation for DevSecOps work.
“The idea of being cloud-safe, using Infrastructure as code (IaaC), is that we can pick up and move to the cloud and have the same results,” says Tarnow. “That’s really important to us.”
He notes that eventually, their ERP system is likely to be delivered as SaaS. “That’s the way the market is going,” he says. “When we don’t want to operate this data center anymore, we can easily migrate to the cloud without having to restructure our whole environment.”
The integrated F5 and RedHat solution, deployed with One Technology’s guidance, is helping CCCS increase the return on its tech investments while achieving cloud-readiness—a path that will resonate with similar organizations.
“This was a great lesson that F5 does well with Kubernetes and can be placed in front of it,” says Hipszky.
In addition to praising technical insight gleaned from F5 Senior Product Manager Mark Dittmer’s YouTube channel, Tarnow calls the support received from One Technology “invaluable.”
“They truly care about our success,” he says. “They didn’t just sell us a product and walk away.”
“It’s a good working partnership,” agrees Hipszky, who adds, “I also love F5 and the direction the company is going. F5 is a solid company putting out solid products.”
He continues, “F5 BIG-IP products practically sell themselves because they deliver. They’re easy to set up. And once we get everything running, F5 can sit in your data center or cloud and run forever. It’s very advantageous to us and our customers.”
You might say that together, One Technology, Red Hat, F5, and CCCS have earned an advanced degree in collaboration to deliver modern apps, both today and into the future.